Interviewing and Choosing an Attorney
Ask Lots of Questions
Ask lots of questions before selecting an Elder Law or Special Needs Law attorney. You don't want to end up spending time and resources with an attorney who can't help you. Start with an initial phone or email correspondence. You may speak with a secretary, receptionist or office manager during the initial call or before you actually meet with the attorney. If so, ask this individual pertinent questions regarding the attorney's practice. Here are a few suggested questions you should ask:
- How long has the attorney been in practice?
- Does his/her practice focus on a particular area of law?
- How long has he/she focused on the particular area of law?
- What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to Elder Law or Special Needs Law?
- Is there a fee for the first consultation with the attorney, and if so, how much is it?
- Given the nature of your case, what specific information/documentation should you bring to the initial consultation?
The answers to these questions will help you determine whether the attorney has the qualifications important for a successful attorney/client relationship and resolution to your case. If you have a specific legal issue that requires immediate attention be sure to inform the office of this during the initial telephone conversation.
Questions for Your Initial Consultation
During the initial consultation, you will be asked to give the attorney an overview of your case. Be sure to organize all of the information pertinent too your case prior to the initial consultation.
After you have explained your case, ask:
- How will the case be resolved?
- What actions will be taken to resolve the case?
- Are there any alternative courses of action?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each possible action?
- Will multiple attorneys within the firm handle your case?
- If so have the attorneys handled matters of this kind in the past?
- If a trial may be involved, will the attorney do trial work? If not, who in the firm will handle the trial work? How many trials has he/she handled?
- Is the attorney a member of the local bar association?
- Is the attorney a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys?
- How are the attorney's fees assessed?
- What is his/her estimate of the cost to resolve your case and when can you expect it to be resolved?
There are many different ways attorneys assess fees and each attorney works differently. Be aware of how your attorney assesses his or her fees. You will want to know how often he or she bills. Some attorneys bill weekly, some bill monthly, some bill upon completion of work. Ask these questions during your initial consultation so there will be no surprises. If you don't understand ask again. If you need clarification, say so. It is very important that you feel comfortable with your attorney.
Some attorneys charge by the hour with different hourly rates for work performed by attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries. If this is the case, find out staff rates and how they will be assessed. Some attorneys simply charge a flat fee for all or part of their services.
In addition to fees, most attorneys will charge you for their out-of-pocket expenses related to your case. Out-of-pocket expenses typically include charges for copies, postage, messenger fees, court fees, disposition fees, long distance telephone calls, etc. Find out if there will be any other incidental costs related to the case.
The attorney may ask for a retainer. This is money paid to the attorney before he or she starts working on your case. It is usually placed in a trust account. Each time the attorney bills you he or she pays himself or herself out of the account. Expenses may be paid directly from the trust account. The size of the retainer may range from a small percentage of the estimated cost to the full amount.
Get Everything in Writing
Once you decide to hire an attorney ask that your arrangement be put in writing. This agreement can be recorded in the form of a letter or formal contract. It should specifically define what services the attorney will perform for you and the fees that will be assessed for the attorney's services. If your agreement remains oral and is not put into writing, you have still made a contract and are responsible for all fees assessed by the attorney and his/her staff.
Make It a Good Experience
A positive and open relationship between attorney and client benefits both parties. The key to a successful client/attorney relationship is communication. The questions provided above will help you develop a successful relationship with your attorney. Use the answers to these questions as a guide to determine the attorney's qualifications and also to determine whether you can comfortably work with the attorney. If your concerns are not addressed, if you don't like the answers to these questions, if you don't like the attorney's responses, or if you simply do not feel relaxed with the attorney do not enter an agreement for services with the attorney.
If you are satisfied with the attorney you have hired, you will trust him or her to do the best job for you. Only if you have established a relationship of open communication will you be able to resolve any difficulties which may arise between the two of you. If you take the time to make sure that you are comfortable with your attorney you will make this a productive experience for both you and the attorney.
For a free copy of the brochure, Questions and Answers When Looking For An Elder Law Attorney, send a stamped self-addressed business sized envelope to:
NAELA Q & A
1577 Spring Hill Road, Suite 220
Vienna, VA 22182